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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
"America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer & Columnist"

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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
for Saturday, August 28, 2004

From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1597:

"I want to see a crossover where the Uncanny and Astonishing X-Men team up for a mission and Wolverine has to try and keep each team from finding out he's on the other one, too! Or has Archie already done that plot?"

- Comics reader Kurt Wilcken

I don't know how it happened, but, after years of avoiding all 1,972 ongoing X-Men titles, I suddenly find myself buying, reading, and enjoying four of them. This mutant epiphany becomes somewhat less spectacular when I consider how high the odds were stacked in favor of my liking these particular titles.

UNCANNY X-MEN is written by Chris Claremont, whose work I've admired since I hired him as my assistant editor back in the years when we used to deliver the comics we worked on to the printer via Pony Express. Drawn by the remarkable Alan Davis, the title adds a sense of family to its super-heroics.

Likewise written by Claremont, EXCALIBUR has a core idea whose possibilities stagger my imagination. Professor Charles Xavier has come to the devastated island of Genosha to champion its human and mutant survivors. This book has the potential to wed super-heroes to social-political storylines...if it can avoid the current trend of its characters fighting to protect their own behinds instead of protecting the behinds of others.

DISTRICT X is cops and mutants in New York City. They had me from the first conversation in the patrol car.

Astonishing X-Men 1

This brings us to ASTONISHING X-MEN, the title written by Joss Whedon, creator of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ANGEL, and the soon-to-be-a-major-motion-picture FIREFLY, three of my all-time favorite TV shows. I reviewed the other comics in previous issues of CBG, but, this go-round, it's ASTONISHING X-MEN #1 and #2 [Marvel; $2.99 each] that get my full "the good, the bad, and the ugly" treatment. Cue the Ennio Morricone soundtrack...

There are two major storylines going on in these debut issues. An old colleague of Hank McCoy's announces a medical discovery with momentous consequences for mutants. A powerful new foe announces his arrival by taking rich people hostage.

The bad: Who do I have to beat with a heavy stick to put the hurt on boring pin-up covers? A close-up of Wolverine's adamantium claws? Gee, I've never seen that one before.

The good: What appears to be a standard and not particularly interesting prologue sets up one heck of a conclusion to Whedon's first issue.

The good: Kitty Pryde. Call me a big softie, but I've always loved this character. Whedon writes her as well as Claremont does at his best.

The good: Emma Frost. This is the first time this character, at least as a member of the team, has ever really made sense to me. I love the natural conflict between her and Kitty.

The ugly: Wolverine busting into Scott and Emma's bedroom to bust them for doing the nasty so soon after the death of Jean Gray. Whedon gets some decent gag-lines out of it in later scenes, but it was too Angel/Xander, Angel/Riley, Angel/Spike for me. Killing off Jean generally denotes a failure of imagination in the X-Men books, so let's either leave her dead this time or, if she must rise once again, do it as quickly as possible and with some truly surprising consequences for a change.

The good: Hank McCoy. Kitty is the outsider looking into the X-Men's world. Hank is the insider looking out. He deserves to be a spotlight character, more so than Wolverine.

The ugly: Hey, Cyclops. Nexus wants his costume back. I love the concept of super-hero costumes, but I don't like the team going only halfway with it. Leather is so ten minutes ago.

The good: Killer cliffhanger to the first ish. Please don't let them drop the ball on this development.

The good: John Cassaday's drawing and storytelling.

The good: Laura Martin's coloring.

Moving on to the second issue...

The maybe bad: Ord of the Breakworld - the new villain - has an hidden agenda involving mutants in general and perhaps the X-Men in specific. I hope it's the former. See my earlier comment about heroes doing more than saving their own behinds.

The bad: Ord of the Breakworld? Maybe all the good names ARE taken. Maybe we'll see some mutant boogaloo before this storyline comes to its conclusion.

The good: Kitty's rescue operation.

The good: The nick-of-time appearance of an X-Men friend that doesn't even remotely feel like a cheat.

The good: Girl talk with Emma and Kitty.

The good: Hank's visit to his former colleague.

The good: Another killer cliffhanger.

I am Tony of the Tipsworld...and I rate the comics I review in this column on a scale of zero to five disembodied columnist heads. I give these issues four Tonys apiece. If you need an explanation of what that means, check out the sidebar my loyal minions...ah...I mean, editors...have placed somewhere around here.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

Godzilla Again Mechagodzilla

GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA, or, if you prefer, GOJIRA TAI MEKAGOJIRA, is one of a series of recent Godzilla movies exploring alternate histories of monster-plagued Japan. For example, in this 2002 movie, the original Godzilla was killed in 1954 and no other Godzilla has shown his scaly face since then. Other giant monsters have done the Tokyo stomp - Mothra is said to have been dispatched by a heat ray some years back - but the "King of the Monsters" has been conspicuous in his absence. Until now.

A new Godzilla shows up, kicks the military and dozens of city blocks around, and then takes a four-year sabbatical. The Japanese government recovers the bones of the first Godzilla and uses them to construct a cyborg. What they don't figure on is their cyborg having deep feelings for the new Godzilla.

You only think I'm kidding.

GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA [DVD; $24.96] is a better film that my cheap jokes at its expense might lead you to believe. One of the things I like best about the recent Godzilla movies is the human stories that accompany them. In this one, we have an earnest widower and his lonely daughter forming a connection with a hard-as-nails soldier seeking redemption for her past failure. I got a kick out of Shin Takuma's performance as the widower-scientist who falls for the soldier, and those of Akira Nakao and Kumi Kizuno as the two prime ministers who push forward the cyborg project at the risk of their careers.

Godzilla movies depend heavily on the action sequences. The Godzilla stuff is well-done, but, sadly, no one has yet figured out how to make Mechagodzilla look anything other than clunky and even downright silly. Grit your teeth and try to look beyond the dumb robot and the film is entertaining.

GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA gets three Tonys. Keep in mind that I'm a total fool for Godzilla movies.

Tony Tony Tony

******

Gotham Central: In the Line of Duty

Good cop stories also float my boat and I'm particularly fond of seeing more or less realistic cops having to contend with super-heroes and super-villains. This is what drew me to GOTHAM CENTRAL: IN THE LINE OF DUTY [DC; $9.95], a collection of the title's first five issues.

Writers Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka do a pretty good job with the Gotham cops. The perils they face as a consequence of working in Batman's city and getting caught in the overflow of his battles with his insane foes, and their reactions to the extreme risks of their jobs all ring true to me. Indeed, the only element that does not ring true is the Batman himself, the sad result of two decades of editors who think Bruce Wayne is merely the disguise worn by a borderline insane vigilante. Sigh.

When Batman's not on stage, I like GOTHAM CENTRAL very much. The writing is excellent, though I wouldn't object to a little more name-dropping in the scripts to help keep the characters straight. The Michael Lark art truly sells the stories.

The five issues reprinted in this trade paperback concern the kidnaping of a teenager, the following of false leads, a tragedy or two as the story progresses, and first-rate police work leading to the successful closing of the case. What will keep me coming back for more GOTHAM CENTRAL volumes is just that: the working of cases sans that guy claiming to be the Batman.

GOTHAM CENTRAL: IN THE LINE OF DUTY earns three Tonys. Let's be careful out there.

Tony Tony Tony

******

Hench

Adam Beechen's HENCH [AiT/PlanetLar; $12.95] is the story of a basically decent man whose misfortunes lead him to hiring out as a henchman to super-villains. It's one of those obvious ideas that wasn't obvious until someone else came up with it.

Beechen presents the idea superbly. Protagonist Mike Fulton lives in a world of costumed madness and human frailty. The super-hero and super-villain riffs are sometimes humorous and sometimes frightening. The balancing act is breathtaking.

Artist Manny Bello creates a visual world that echoes reality while including the big super-stuff. His storytelling is so good that I initially missed one of his homages to classic comics covers because I was so into HENCH itself.

This graphic novel is so good it demands I dance around most of the specifics in reviewing it. You'll get no spoilers from me, just an observation that Beechen plants seeds to at least one more "obvious" tale within this one and my insistence that he write that tale as soon as possible.

Every time some close-minded pundit writes off the super-hero genre, we get a treasure like HENCH. It earns the full five Tonys. The pundits? They get my mocking derision.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

What Do Women Really Want? Chocolate!

"Everyone wants to know what women really want and it's four things. Chocolate is one of them."

That's the back cover come-on for WHAT DO WOMEN REALLY WANT? CHOCOLATE! [NBM; $12.95], a hardcover collection of cartoons by THE NEW YORKER's Donna L. Barstow. Don't tell me what the other three things are; if men knew what women really want, we'd be even more dangerous than we are now.

Barstow's cartoons are witty, if repetitive, which is often a problem with theme collections like this one. Interspersed with the cartoons are a few pages of clever quips on the theme. All in all, this is a fun book, perfectly suitable as a gift for the woman you love. Just wrap it with her favorite chocolates.

I'm a quick learner.

Barstow picks up three Tonys for this one. I'll add another one if Godzilla movies turn out to be one of the other things women really want.

Tony Tony Tony

******

.Remote

Meter maid Kurimi Ayaki planned to leave the police force and get married. The financial woes of her and her fiancé changed that plan, leaving her with no option but to become the eyes and ears of Inspector Himuro, a handsome, mysterious, tragic genius who can't (or won't) leave his home.

That's .REMOTE. [ToykoPop; $9.99] by Seimaru Amagi (story) and Tetsuya Koshiba (art). The first volume introduces the characters and the concept, putting the inexperienced Kurimi on the trail of a killer clown who leaves bizarre clues to his next victim at the scene of each brutal crime. Amagi and Koshiba keep the action and suspense high, but the heart of the series lies in the characters and their relationships.

Kurimi is a compelling heroine. Her fiancé strikes me as all talk and no wallet, but she remains devoted to him. Her superiors seem to have little respect for her, but their disdain for Himuro is also obvious. This new assignment is the equivalent of throwing a non-swimmer into the deep end of the pool, but she stays afloat and then some. She's cute as a button, but her real beauty lies in her compassion, loyalty, and inner strength.

Himuro appears to be a cold fish, but you know there's more to him from the love his small staff has for him. If the story avoids making his association with Kurimi romantic, and I fear it won't, they could become one of the great teams in comics.

.REMOTE. hooked me with this first volume. I'm giving it four Tonys and looking forward to the next book in the series, which is scheduled to hit the streets in August.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

The Black Forest

THE BLACK FOREST [Image; $9.95] combines some of the classic fiends of filmdom - vampires, werewolves, zombies, Frankenstein's monster, and mad German occultists who might as well be the Nazis we've seen so many times - in a pulp adventure that is entertaining despite its hitting so many familiar notes. At 100 pages of spooky daring-do, the graphic novel delivers satisfying bang for your ten bucks. That works for me.

The setting is World War I before the official involvement of the USA. Cocky pilot Jack Shannon teams with aging magician Archie Caldwell to find out what the not-quite-Nazis are up to. Caldwell has a personal stake in this mission and his character carries much of the tale's emotional weight. In the classic tradition, it's the Frankenstein Monster who is the next most sympathetic player in the action-thriller.

Writers Todd Livingston and Robert Tinnell gleefully embrace their tale's old movies and pulp magazine inspirations. They pull off several nice twists along the way. Artist Neil Vokes does them one better by infusing the artwork with mood and movement that made me feel like I was sitting in a comfy old theater watching the book on a big screen...sans the sticky theater floor.

THE BLACK FOREST picks up a perfectly respectable three Tonys. It's a Saturday afternoon matinee in comics format and I hope it's just the first such book we see from these creators.

Tony Tony Tony

******

Dark Horse Comics sent me a pair of previews recently, titles which take different spins on their respective genres. The issues will already be in the shops by the time this column appears, but I'm reviewing them from black-and-white copies.

Fierce 1

FIERCE #1 [$2.99] introduces psychic profiler Jonathan Fierce. Part of an elite FBI strike force assigned to bring down a ruthless crime syndicate, Fierce finds himself in the middle of unexpected circumstances which will push his abilities beyond all his previous limits. The mission and his survival depend upon it.

Writer Jeremy Love gives us a complicated and intriguing hero in Fierce. He gets the readers involved in the character and eager to see what happens next. Artists Robert Love (pencils) and Jeff Wasson (inks) do a good job with the storytelling and a better one with the expressive faces of the cast members.

FIERCE #1 gets three Tonys. The next issue of this four-issue mini-series takes Fierce into the Jamaican underworld. I'm looking forward to seeing him operate in a setting we don't see often enough in comics.

Tony Tony Tony

The Milkman Murders 1

Intended for mature readers, THE MILKMAN MURDERS #1 [$2.99] is a wonderfully unsettling horror story. Writer Joe Casey and artist Steve Parkhouse just flat out give me the creeps as they takes us into the suburban dream gone horribly awry. I love their woebegone housewife, the center of their mad play, and the human monsters who make up her family and her desolate world. My problem with this first of four issues is that it fails to deliver a satisfying hunk of the story. It sets up the overall tale, but stops just short of bringing me completely into the proceedings.

THE MILKMAN MURDERS will doubtless read much better when it's collected into one volume, but I can only rate it on the individual issue before me. As thrilled as I am to see new work by Parkhouse, the best I can do for that issue is two Tonys.

Tony Tony

******

Superheroes in my Pants

Mark Evanier is one of my oldest and dearest friends. That's something I feel compelled to reveal before I review SUPERHEROES IN MY PANTS [TwoMorrows; $12.95], his third collection of CBG columns. I love him like a brother. In fact, during election years, I love him more than my actual brothers.

My long friendship with Mark doesn't mean he gets any special consideration when one of his books lands on my review pile. He's got to send me a check just like everyone else.

All kidding aside - unless you really were planning to send me a check - I would be recommending SUPERHEROES IN MY PANTS even I loathed Evanier. His columns are entertaining and knowledgeable. When he presents his opinions on this or that, or writes about the folks he knows, he does so with a fairness and honesty that could destroy journalism as we know it today. In fact, my admiration and jealousy of his talents are such that I really should learn to hate him just for the sake of my own self-esteem.

There are 28 columns in this collection. Evanier pens loving tributes to Julius Schwartz and Pat Boyette, offers sage advice for comics creators, relates hilarious tales of comics collecting and conventions, and puts forth the best advocacy/defense of super-hero comics, or, at least, super-hero comics as they should be, that I have ever read.

SUPERHEROES IN MY PANTS gets five Tonys because that's all my ratings scale allows.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Good old Mark Evanier. How I hate him.

Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 08/27/2004 | 08/28/2004 | 08/29/2004 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Message Board. Also, read Heroes and Villains: Real and Imagined and view my Amazon Wish List.

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THE "TONY" SCALE

Zero Tonys
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

Tony
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.

TonyTony
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?

TonyTonyTony
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.

TonyTonyTonyTony
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?

TonyTonyTonyTonyTony
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.



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